Malawian fishers on Lake Chiuta have lamented frequent armed attacks from their Mozambican neighbours despite efforts to end the conflict.
The communities surrounding the 200-square-kilometre lake, located on the south-eastern border between Malawi and Mozambique, say there is no end in sight for the conflict in which three Malawians have sustained gunshot wounds.
Gunfire might have relented since July 2015 when the third casualty was shot in the stomach, but the fishers say they keep experiencing violent attacks from boatloads of Mozambican fishing crews armed with machetes, bows, arrows and spears.
At the heart of the silent crisis is a scramble for fish in the shallow lake, which almost dried up due to massive drought last year.
The water levels have risen appreciably in the ending rainy season, but the locals fear a bleak future as the levels may not be good enough to sustain thousands of households whose livelihoods hinge on the falling fish population.
In an interview, Chief Ngokwe of Machinga asked government to intensify its talks with Mozambique to bring peace to the remote fishing zone.
“Fishing is almost everything to the people of my area. The lake is our goldmine. The shootings, hackings and all these armed attacks not only threaten the lives, but also the livelihoods.
“The major worry is that our beach village committees have intensified efforts to conserve the lake and ensure sustainable fishing practices while our friends are not doing much.”
The conflict was a major talking point when traditional leaders and heads of beach village committees met at Njerwa in Machinga to discuss the strides attained by Fisheries Integration of Society and Habitats (Fish) Project.
Funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAid), the Fish Project is empowering the fishers to take a leading role in safeguarding the lake and its diminishing fish species from harmful effects of climate change and unsustainable fishing practices.
Lake Chiuta Fish Association chairperson Mattias Mainala called for a quick end to the simmering spat, saying it erodes the gains achieved in protecting the lake.
“Fish know no boundaries,” he said. “While we are fighting, the fish population is decreasing. One day, we will wake up to an empty lake because we spent many years attacking each other instead of working together to protect the lake.”